Case Against Pulse Nightclub Shooter’s Wife Falls Apart

FBI Caught in an Interesting Lie

Noor Salman, US District Court, Orlando, Florida
Noor Salman superimposed over US Federal Courthouse in Orlando, Florida. Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Facebook, Michael Rivera / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0) and US District Court.

Back in a January 2017 article, we asked: “Did the Feds Indict the Wife of Orlando Shooter for Sins of Her Husband?” It turns out the answer to that question is: probably. It’s either that or the FBI is trying to silence her.

Either way, the case against Noor Salman, wife of Pulse nightclub shooter, Omar Mateen, is falling apart due to prosecutorial misconduct.

In the early morning hours of June 12, 2016, Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 58, at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in one of the worst mass shooting incidents in the nation’s history. Mateen was ultimately shot and killed by police.

Salman, Mateen’s wife and the mother of his young child, was indicted by prosecutors on charges of “aiding and abetting” an act of terrorism as well as “obstruction of justice” for supposedly lying to investigators.

Mateen, a Muslim, made a series of contradictory statements in support of Sunni ISIS and Shia Hezbollah to 911 operators the night of the shooting: hence the terrorism charges.

Misled for Months by Prosecutors

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An exchange last week between the sitting judge in the case and an FBI special agent is illustrative. As reported by the Intercept, “the judge, in angry tones, made clear that he believed he had been misled for months by prosecutors about a key part of the government’s evidence.”

At issue is the reliability of the evidence the prosecution (and the FBI) used to make its case: that Salman was willingly aiding and abetting her husband’s violent plans to shoot up the Orlando nightclub.

Furthermore, and perhaps most troubling, it also became known in court filings that Omar Mateen’s father was a longtime FBI informant — a highly relevant fact that was not disclosed to the defense team until recently, according to the Washington Post.

To make matters worse, Mateen’s father, Seddique Mateen, was himself the recent target of an FBI investigation related to terrorism — leading to questions about why prosecutors threw the book at Salman while hiding these facts about the elder Mateen.

Salman’s attorneys wrote in court documents that, had they been aware of Seddique Mateen’s relationship to the Bureau, they would have investigated whether Omar had conspired with his father in the attacks rather than with his wife Noor.

Salman faces life in prison if convicted of all charges.

We Have Ways to Make You Talk

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According to prosecutors, Salman confessed to the crimes with which she is charged.

However, it was only after a 17-hour interrogation by FBI agents, where Salman signed the notes that were compiled by one of the interviewing agents — a signing statement that ultimately became the official account of what Salman said. This signed statement was characterized by agents as a sort of “confession” of her duplicity.

Pulse nightclub

Memorials to victims of Pulse nightclub shooting, August 1, 2016. Photo credit: Walter / Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Among other things, Salman allegedly told agents that she accompanied Mateen on a trip to Orlando where, according to the agents’ characterization of her statements, Mateen and Salman “cased” multiple locations — one of which was the Pulse nightclub.

As WhoWhatWhy has previously reported, the FBI almost never electronically records interviews. Instead, one agent does the questioning while another takes notes — the results of which are later typed up into what the Bureau calls a Form 302 that becomes the official account of what was said.

Interviewees, who subsequently challenge the FBI’s characterization of what is written in those notes, open themselves up to charges of lying to federal agents. As a matter of fact, however, 302s are so notoriously unreliable that one federal judge refused to be interviewed by agents unless he was allowed to review, then make corrections to the 302 form.

And, as the judge in the case against Salman learned while questioning the special agent involved, FBI agents determined “within days” that Salman’s testimony in the signed statements was false.

FBI Knew Report Was False

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Using geolocation data from cell phone records, the Bureau learned many months before Salman was even arrested, that Salman couldn’t possibly have “cased” the Pulse nightclub with her husband on the date indicated in the signed statements. In fact, the record scrutinized by agents indicated that Salman was never anywhere near Pulse.

A crucial part of the government’s case could not possibly have been true — and the Bureau knew it from the start. Further, that false evidence was used to characterize Salman as dangerous, thereby justifying the denial of bail, according to The Intercept — despite the fact that she had spent the seven months prior to the indictment completely free to go wherever she wanted.

And We Have Ways to Shut You Up

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Notably, as we pointed out back in 2017, the indictment against Salman came shortly after she broke her silence in an interview with the New York Times. Salman, who had undergone years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of the younger Mateen, came across as a rather sympathetic character in the Times article. She also plainly admitted that she indeed saw signs of her husband’s “radicalization,” but that the FBI had already cleared him. The Times said:

Agents had investigated Mr. Mateen in 2013 after he told work colleagues he was a member of Hezbollah, had family ties to Al Qaeda and wanted to die as a martyr. Ten months later, the FBI closed the case. That same year, the agency questioned him again in connection with another terrorism investigation. So when Mr. Mateen told his wife to mind her own business about the [Jihad] videos, she did.

In other words, Mateen’s behavior didn’t raise alarm bells with Salman because the Bureau had investigated him for months and subsequently cleared him.

As we’ve documented time and time again, there is a growing list of individuals that the Bureau interacts with who subsequently commit acts of mass violence — the big one being the FBI’s handling of Boston Marathon bombing mastermind, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The FBI admitted to having investigated Tsarnaev for six months after receiving a warning in 2011 from the Russian government about him. The FBI claims to have found “no nexus” between Tsarnaev and any terrorist group. Pointing to a lack of finding of any direct connection between Tsarnaev and overseas terrorist groups seems like a strange exonerating standard — particularly with all the talk about “lone wolves” by the FBI.

In Mateen’s case, a senior FBI official told the LA Times that the FBI “went right up to the edge of what we could do legally.”

It seems fair to ask whether the Bureau’s heavy-handed investigatory tactics might be pushing some of these vulnerable individuals over the edge.

In the case of Salman, why would the FBI risk the potential PR disaster of bringing a specious prosecution against a woman, who was almost certainly victimized by the same monster who actually committed the atrocity in the first place?

Is the FBI pursuing a travesty of justice in the name of … justice? Or is it just trying to silence an inconvenient witness?


Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Noor Salman (Facebook) and FBI seal (J / Flickr -CC BY 2.0).

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4 responses to “Case Against Pulse Nightclub Shooter’s Wife Falls Apart”

  1. Ed says:

    The Miami Herald actually did cover this, but they portrayed Seddique as delusional:

    “He presents himself as an important figure in his native Afghanistan. He once hosted a California-based television broadcast for Afghan expats in the United States and Europe, railing against U.S. policy, its ally Pakistan and non-Pashtuns.

    He posted an interview he conducted with Ashraf Ghani — now the president of Afghanistan — online, boasted of his ties to the U.S. Congress and claimed to be the leader of an Afghan government-in-exile. Several photos show him wearing military-style fatigues.

    “Our brothers in Waziristan, our warrior brothers in [the] Taliban movement and national Afghan Taliban are rising up,” he said in one video, the Washington Post reported. He also ran a Florida-based nonprofit, the Durand Jirga, named after the Durand Line, a British-imposed border that split ethnic Pashtuns between Afghanistan and Pakistan in 1893. Calls for the destruction of the border still animate Pashtun nationalist feeling. A jirga is a traditional Afghan tribal council.

    On a now-deleted Facebook page, he named cabinet ministers for his make-believe government, which he dubbed the “Islamic Revolutionary Transitional Government of Afghanistan.” He incorporated it in Florida under a slightly different name.

    In addition to his political grandiosity, Seddique Mateen is a successful insurance broker registered in Florida and New York with four children (three daughters and Omar). “

  2. Ed says:

    Mr. Jolliffe, you’re right! The UK press covered this last June!

    “Photo captions from his DC trip describe meetings with the Foreign Relations Committee and a trip to a hearing for Afghanistan security, according to the Independent Journal.

    Pictures from 2015 show Mateen meeting Reps Charlie Rangel, Dana Rohrabacher and Ed Royce. Royce is the Chairman of the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

    Dozens of videos are posted under Mateen’s name on YouTube, where he speaks on a range of political subjects in the Dari language.

    One video shows him declaring his candidacy for the Afghan presidency.”

    I wonder why the media in the U.S. didn’t cover this story?

  3. Ed says:

    From a Fox News opinion piece (28 March 2018) on the trial:

    “FBI Special Agent Juvenal Martin, Seddique Mateen’s FBI handler, was also assigned to investigate his charge’s son, Omar Mateen, in the midst of the complaints that began to pour in about him. Why the FBI would assign someone with an obvious conflict of interest is stunning.

    Imagine, you are running an informant (on which issues we have not been told) and you have his son essentially confessing he’s a wannabe terrorist, the family is tied to terrorists and that he wants to kill people. What happens to your informant if this becomes an issue unto itself?

    Instead, as the Orlando Sentinel reported, “FBI Special Agent Juvenal Martin also testified that he considered developing Omar Mateen as an informant after closing an investigation into comments Mateen made at work in 2013 about belonging to terrorist organizations.””

  4. Paul Jolliffe says:

    The first rule for the FBI was (and is) “don’t embarrass the bureau.”

    Salman embarrassed the bureau by pointing out publicly that the FBI had cleared her abusive husband (back in 2014) for all kinds of bad behaviors.

    Why did the FBI clear Mateen, Jr.?
    Because his father was an important Deep-State intelligence asset. Ol’ Mateen, Sr. for years was the prospective Afghan president in exile, should Hamid Karzai’s enemies succeed in forcing Karzai out (or stringing him up from a lamp post).

    The CIA needed a back-up plan for Afghanistan in 2014, and Mateen, Sr. was it. So the FBI could not arrest Mateen, Jr., no matter how awful that guy was to everyone around him.

    Why Afghanistan?

    Because it may (or may not) have incredible deposits of mineral wealth up for grabs.